Over the last couple of years I’ve written a number of posts that were in the forms of letters. Sometimes these were words that I wrote to myself, to remind me that there was more to this life than what Anorexia could offer me. Other times I have also letters to my disorder. I wrote words of hate and despair and love and sorrow because I felt all these things, usually at the same time towards it. What I haven’t written, what I should have written are the words that I wanted to share with the people around me in the hope that I could help them understand. There is a reason why I haven’t done this before though. I taught myself to be silent. If I didn’t justify it, if I didn’t empathise with the people who were watching me get worse, if I’d have tried to explain it than I worried it would hurt me more. In truth, I didn’t want them to understand because that meant that they would have had more of an ability to help me and I didn’t want them to help me. I could bear failing myself but failing them would have been too much. However, maybe there is some validity in writing this now. Not necessarily for me but maybe you are struggling to find a way to let your loved one in, to help them understand and perhaps this can help.
Dear Mum, Dad, sister, brother, friend, love…
I know these years have not been easy. You have watched me change into someone I’m not sure you recognise anymore. I know that I don’t see who I am anymore when I look in the mirror. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not even sure how it happened. Part of me thinks I was made this way, unbearably broken and destined to be in pain. Most of the time that’s all I feel that I deserve. It’s hard to put into words the hate that fills me up sometimes. It’s like it splits me at my centre and for a moment, I’m not sure that I can even take another breath. Everything I have done has been about finding a way to survive that ache. I know that I’ve made it worse in the process, allowed it to grow and consume me. I didn’t realise that would happen but back then I was just this scared kid and I didn’t know what I know now. I had this belief that I could fix it or me or whatever it was that was wrong. I tried…I really did try.
When it started, it seemed simple. I wasn’t doing it to lose weight or because I thought I was ugly. I wasn’t trying to make you love me more because even though I felt unlovable, I did know that you loved me. I remember thinking that if I could just focus on this one thing, this one thing that I had the power to change then maybe there was hope. It was something solid and tangible to hold on to when it all felt chaotic. I never imagined that it would grow stronger than me. Sometimes it’s hard to recollect how it started but there was a belief that if I took up less space, if I made myself smaller then I could apologise for existing. Fundamentally that’s where it started, the complete lack of self worth, the inability to handle emotions too intense for me. Restricting made those feelings less overwhelming. It drowned out the self hate because I could rationalise that I was doing something to make myself better.
There are a lot of strange things that happen to you after you’ve been starving yourself for a while. Your thinking becomes odd. I barely felt like a person, nothing really connected inside of me. I had this little bubble around me that protected me from what was so painful. I felt betrayed by my body and the pain that it had inflicted so by reducing it, by punishing it, in my mind it told me that I was balancing everything out. The scales weren’t the only mechanism weighing me up. You’re probably thinking “Why didn’t I see it? What could I have done?”. You didn’t see it because I didn’t want you to see it. I thought about protecting my secret all the time, you didn’t stand a chance in trying to figure it out. I had put in the hours to make sure you didn’t. If you had known, you could have tried to help, gave me the space to talk, got me the help that I needed but the reality is is that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. You see, that would have been admitting that I had a problem and I wasn’t capable of comprehending that concept. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right but I needed it and if I needed it than it couldn’t be an illness because people don’t need illnesses.
At the 5 year mark, my armour nearly cracked and people started to ask questions. You started to watch me more. It didn’t make a difference though because I had learnt how to deflect and when I couldn’t deflect, I simply withdrew. I know my silence hurt you. I saw it on your face as you struggled with your anger. You wanted to scream at me or shake me or probably both…but you still couldn’t figure out why exactly. I was this self-destructive time-bomb who wouldn’t let you in. I still didn’t think I was sick and so I wouldn’t reach out for help. By this point other behaviours had started…restriction was no longer enough. It wasn’t killing the pain in the same way and it was harder to hide. I started to purge because that’s how much I hated myself. I hated myself so much that the only way I could live with myself was to constantly destroy who I was. I kept doing it because it gave me some twisted adrenaline rush that allowed me for a moment to feel a little bit powerful, a little more in control, allowing me to just catch my breath for a moment. I didn’t even register the damage I may be doing. I couldn’t.
The big crash happened a few years later. I had been engaging in this behaviour for nearly a decade. You had watched me get weaker, more out of control, more fearful everyday. This was the time that I made you watch me give up on me. Throughout the years I had tried to hold onto some appearances purely for the sake of protecting the disorder but I gave that up too. I thought no one had the ability to force me into any form of treatment anymore. During that time, the truth is that I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want you to save me. I didn’t want you to love me. There was this idea that if I could put some distance between us and I could isolate myself so much than you wouldn’t notice that I was disappearing. I thought it wouldn’t hurt you as much when I was finally gone. My life became about numbers. The only thing that mattered was the number of calories I consumed or worked off or how much I weighed and what was the difference between yesterday and today. I kept thinking I would look in the mirror one day and finally find someone who was acceptable. That I’d hit this magic number on the scale and I’d be good enough. I would stop poisoning everything around me. I would be worthy of being loved. It never happened. The aim kept changing and I was always too excessive. When I went into hospital that time…I hated you because you tied me to this earth, you wouldn’t give up on me and everything I had been working so hard for felt like it was coming undone.
I still couldn’t admit I was ill then, could I? I wouldn’t let you touch me and I felt ashamed when you had to help me. It wasn’t supposed to work out that way. Anorexia told me that it would make me invincible, that I would never need anyone, that it would stop me from being hurt, that it would save me. I had this loyalty to this disorder which I’d never shown to anyone else. Imagine it like this, you have this best friend and you have known them for over half your life. They were there when you had your first kiss and when that boy broke your hurt. They were there when you passed your exams or got into uni. They were there when you first experienced death and when your parents fought for days. They sat with you, they comforted you, they talked you through it and never let you down. Can you imagine that? Can you see who that person in your life is? To me, that person was Anorexia. It was the only thing that had never let me down. It had been my constant and whether rightly or wrongly, I loved it.
It changed when I started to lose more to it. Eventually it was like I was waking up after this long period and the life that I was living was not something I was proud of. I had felt empty for years, every hope and dream that I had had disappeared. I was drained and half dead and still the Anorexia was asking more from me. Here’s the thing, up until that point, I really thought that I would just be able to walk away. I’d make the choice and give it up. I didn’t want to hurt you anymore. I saw how you looked at me…it was like every time you saw me, you were memorising bits of me as though it would be the last time. You sounded scared whenever you answered the phone to me. I started to see that this disorder hadn’t happened just to me but it had happened to all of us. I hadn’t gone looking for it but it was what I found and I’d made us all experience the consequences. I wanted it gone, please believe that. For a long time, I just couldn’t do it. Every time I tried, it pulled me back. Fear became all I knew. I was afraid of my body, of food, of eating and not eating, or dying and living. Let me tell you though that that fear was something that I had to get over alone. I know you wanted to do it for me but you couldn’t. Nobody could.
The day that I really chose recovery was probably the first real breath you had taken in a long time. I scared you. You had seen me getting weaker even though I wouldn’t admit to it. Anorexia is selfish like that. It doesn’t care about your feelings and it certainly doesn’t care about mine. However making that decision and then living it are completely different things. Every day I had to make the choice to put myself through hell. I had to face my biggest fears repeatedly without a break. I didn’t get to have a day off. My body became entirely foreign to me and I was permanently uncomfortable. Then the emotions came, hard and fast and I didn’t know how to cope with those either. It was an onslaught and that’s why I tripped sometimes and went crawling back to the disorder. Not because I wanted it but because I knew it. I could hide in it.
You did what you could with what you had, which is hard when I gave you very little. Please don’t blame yourself for this. There are some things that I wish you would have done differently but I don’t know how much they would have changed things. We all made my disorder acceptable. We made allowances for it. Perhaps we shouldn’t have done that. I know you didn’t want to fight me because you were afraid that I would have shut you out and you would have lost me but you should have fought me. I justified my disorder because it was never questioned by you. Not properly. In hindsight the best thing would have been to have gotten help when I was young and unsure and when the potential to change things were still possible. The more ingrained the disorder got, the harder it was to undo it. Yet we don’t know that we wouldn’t have ended up in the same place anyway.
I didn’t become ill to hurt you.
I became unwell because I didn’t have enough words, because I was alone, because I looked in the mirror and saw all my failings. I became unwell because I didn’t believe I deserved better and because I didn’t know how to be better. I became unwell because I was broken, because the body is easier to fix than the mind and because we lived in a messed up society which equates success and happiness with beauty and thinness.
I am trying to get better for so many reasons now. The main one being for me. Please be patient with me as I try to undo years of conditioning by the eating disorder. I won’t always get it right. I will stumble. There might be another relapse. I’m sorry about that, it’s just…that’s my reality. It also makes it your reality. Don’t give up on me though. Please. Fight me. Make me accountable. Call me out on my excuses. Don’t let me bullshit you. I have felt on my own for so long…I don’t want to be that way anymore.
I love you.